The book of Judges is an important historical book in the Hebrew bible, full of colorful characters and memorable stories. Although the book is only 21 chapters long, it recounts a massive period of the history of Israel, approximately 350 years or 25% of the historical period described in the Old Testament. Judges is an honest book, dealing frankly with the sin of the people of Israel and the consequences that flow from such sin. And because Judges is an honest book, Judges is a scandalous book, full of enough sex and violence to make the writers of Game of Thrones blush. But despite its somber outlook, the book of Judges is a book of hope because it constantly points the readers to look for a better judge, a better leader, a better king.
The Downward Spiral of Judges
The book of Judges is also a cyclical book. As you read through the narrative, a distinct pattern emerges:
- Sin. The people rebel against God and worship the idols of the surrounding culture.
- Judgement. God allows an enemy nation to subjugate the people of Israel.
- Repentance. The people Israel realize their predicament and cry out for rescue.
- Deliverance. God raises up a judge, a military leader who conquers the oppressing enemy and brings freedom back to Israel.
- Peace. The oppression ends and the people experience a season of peace.
Unfortunately, each time the cycle ends it does not really end, as the people fall back into rebellion and apostasy over and over again. And each time they rebel, the nation is plunged more deeply into darkness, heartache, and fragmentation as a nation. As the book of Judges progresses, we see fewer and fewer of the people of Israel caring that they are being subjugated by foreign oppressors. As Tim Keller points out,
This downward spiral serves as a narrative marker, signaling the next scene in this painful and tragic period in Israel’s history.
Major Themes in the Book of Judges
As you read through Judges, several key themes emerge:
1. The search for genuine leadership. The book begins with the death of Joshua, and ends with the repeated refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The longing for good leadership permeates every page of Judges. Even when God raises up leaders for Israel, these people are (mostly) deeply flawed individuals who leave the reader longing for a righteous king.
2. The disastrous consequences of compromise. As the downward spiral of Judges progresses, we see the example of a nation that progressively capitulates to the beliefs, practices, and worship of the surrounding culture. The book of Judges goes to great lengths to show us the pain that results when God’s people do not remain faithful to him.
3. God’s sovereignty over human affairs. As noted above, even the best leaders in Judges are still flawed individuals with flawed plans. Despite the flaws and failures of these judges, God is portrayed as fully and completely in control, leading and guiding his people through the moral fog toward his desired outcome. His sovereign purposes cannot be thwarted by man’s wickedness and foolishness.
4. God’s grace despite people’s rebellion and foolishness. Man’s wickedness is on full display in Judges, which enables a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Despite the persistent rebellion of the people, God’s heart of grace and mercy is even more persistent.
Why Study this Book?
You might be saying, "all of that information is interesting, Aaron, but why should Sound City commit more than 5 months to going through Judges? I know that our church regularly goes through books of the bible, but why this book at this time?" I think there are three important answers to that question.
1. Cultural Moment. One of the major problems throughout the story of the Judges is God’s people being more influenced by the surrounding culture than by God and his word. It is no stretch to say that in 2017 America, Christians are facing more pressure, opposition, and backlash than at any time in our history. By studying the book of Judges, we can be reminded and encouraged to remain faithful to Jesus no matter what the earthly consequences may be.
2. Leadership Lessons. Another major theme of Judges is the importance of quality leadership. While the meta-theme of the book points us to the need for an ultimate king (Jesus), there are a myriad of leadership lessons to learn along the way. I believe that these lessons will be very helpful for the people of Sound City as we continue to seek to engage suburbanites in greater community engagement, missional action, and heartfelt leadership.
3. Invitational. Judges is full of colorful characters and memorable stories; even many non-church folks are familiar with sections of this engaging book. Studying the book of Judges gives the members of Sound City an easy opportunity to invite friends, neighbors, and family to church as the stories will be easily engaging for both regular church attenders and newcomers alike.
We hope and pray that God uses this sermon series to go great things in and through Sound City. Join us as we kick off on January 15!